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A new Bosz at Dortmund means new tactics

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How Ajax lined up last year may preview the Dortmund formation this year

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Ajax v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

New Dortmund boss Peter Bosz may not be as much of a tactician as former manager Thomas Tuchel. But a simplified strategy and a return to basics makes Bosz a better fit for a young team.

While at Ajax, Peter Bosz oversaw an Ajax squad that, like many Dutch teams past and present, lined up with a 4-3-3 formation for almost every game.

Under Bosz, Ajax saw one of it’s best seasons in recent years, making an appearance in the UEFA Europa League Final and a second place finish in the Dutch Eredivisie. Ajax qualified for the Champions League where they will enter as a seeded team in the third qualifying round.

Ajax lost only three times in 34 games and won 25. In addition, Ajax was the top team on the road in the league, collecting 37 of a possible 51 points (11W-4D-2L) and a +20 goal differential. At home, Ajax was even more dominant, sporting a 14W-2D-1L record with a +36 goal differential.

The only home loss came early in the season to 16th-place Willem II. Notable results in league play came over champion Feyenoord at home and a draw on the road and road wins over FC Utrecht, Heerenveen, and Vitesse.

Dortmund struggled on the road all season long, collecting just five wins in 17 tries. At home, Dortmund remained unbeaten with 13 wins and just four draws. One explanation for Dortmund’s road struggles is certainly defensive organization.

In away defeats to RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen at the start of the year, Dortmund lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-2-1 respectively -- two of the most complex formations which clearly didn’t work well with this team.

That was part of Thomas Tuchel’s downfall. Despite his immense tactical awareness and knowledge, that kind of flexibility with a young team ultimately failed in the long run. With the arrival of Bosz comes a sense of tactical stability, something from which this Dortmund team will certainly benefit.

But just how will Dortmund line-up next season?

There seems to be two distinct possibilities, unlike last season’s vast array: a traditional Dutch 4-3-3 and the option of a 3-5-2.

4-3-3 formations and Dutch football go together like milk and cookies. It’s just always been that way. If you read Ruud Gullit’s book How to Watch Soccer, he describes how his mentor, the great Johan Cruijff, used the 4-3-3 as a means to put players in roles where they will find the most success. Similarly, Bosz can do the same at Dortmund.

Bosz preferred a 4-3-3 formation during his time at Ajax.

In this formation, the starting lineup on opening day will seem pretty simple. Of course, BVB will have Burki in net with center backs Sokratis and newcomer Omer Toprak directly in front of him. Toprak will provide experience and physicality as well as the ability to play out of the back. Guerreiro and Piszczek as full-backs also give Dortmund the ability to progress forward as the two will be instrumental in providing crosses to attacking options in the box.

In the midfield, Dahoud will likely begin the year as the CDM while Weigl recovers from injury while it appears Schurrle and Pulisic could be the favorites to start as the other midfielders. Pulisic, as shown through his play with the U.S. national team, can slot in behind the striker while Schurrle remains a threat to create chances around the penalty area.

Up front, Ousmane Dembele will begin the year as the left-winger while Reus is sidelined (yet again) with a leg injury. Dembele’s speed makes him ideal for Dortmund’s attacking system and his distribution has been superb throughout his career. On the other side, new boy Max Philipp could be a likely candidate to start at right wing. Although it is his secondary position, his ability to use both feet as well as play into the middle will give Dortmund a huge edge offensively.

At striker, it is still unclear whether Aubameyang will stay or go, but if he stays he’ll undoubtedly be starting. His 31 goals from last season barely scratch the surface of what Auba is capable of doing. With his speed and aerial presence, the 4-3-3 suits him perfectly. But for now, we’ll have to wait and see about his future.

The other possibility, a 3-5-2, was used by Louis van Gaal at the 2014 World Cup. This formation worked well with the Dutch squad at that tournament and actually fits Dortmund suitably too.

A very deep and layered approach could be in the cards for Dortmund next season.

Pretty much a carbon copy of the look which the Netherlands showed in 2014, Dortmund will have two center backs — Toprak and Sokratis — sitting directly in front of the goalkeeper Burki. The other center back Bartra would play just ahead of the Toprak and Sokratis creating a triangle among the CB corps.

The midfield starts with a pair of full backs playing up in the midfield as wing backs. In 2014, the Dutch side used Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat in this role for most of the tournament until Janmaat was injured. Dortmund will be using similar players, Guerreiro and Durm, in this position.

The rest of the midfield will feature a triangle of Dembele and Dahoud behind Pulisic. Dembele can push forward to create an inverted triangle if Dortmund are looking to be more attack-oriented as well. Pulisic, meanwhile, can serve as a false-9 as well by slotting between the two strikers.

The two up-front in this formation will be Philipp and Aubameyang. Philipp is normally a center forward or a secondary striker and performed admirably for Freiburg last year. Aubameyang, of course, is a natural striker and could benefit from working in tandem with a player like Philipp.

Whichever formation Dortmund chooses to go with, most likely the 4-3-3, it will be much simpler and organized than Dortmund were under Tuchel last season.